"Two Men Went to War" is a British World War II satire that is as straightforward as its title, delivering exactly what you would expect: a pleasant bit of stiff-upper-lip nostalgia with a touch of whimsy. Set in 1942, the film acknowledges its liberties with historical fact by wryly proclaiming in an opening title card, "Most of what follows is true."
The "Hogan's Heroes"-style military high jinks that ensue involve a pair of British soldiers who form a dubious partnership in an attempt to contribute more directly to the war effort. Richard Everett, who co-wrote the screenplay with Christopher Villiers, discovered Raymond Foxall's book "Amateur Commandos" at a library in Surrey and liked the story's mix of absurdity and everyman heroics.
Petulant Sgt. Peter King, a decorated vet from the first Big War now posted to the dental corps, is passed over for an assignment that would take him closer to the action. Knowing this is his last chance to distinguish himself, King creates his own opportunity with an ill-planned scheme to steal across the heavily mined English Channel into Nazi-occupied France and wreak havoc on a couple of German warships.
Suitably underplayed with patriotic resolve by the walrus-like Kenneth Cranham, the sergeant uses subterfuge to enlist the aid of Pvt. Leslie Cuthbertson (Leo Bill), an equally frustrated dental mechanic in training whose war-hero fantasies are at odds with his assignment.
The hare-brained operation, full of requisite false starts and comedic wrong turns, is intercut with the plight of a letter sent by Sgt. King to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (David Ryall) explaining the duo's intent to invade France. Stalwarts Derek Jacobi and Phyllida Law are underutilized as members of Churchill's staff concerned by the old man's depression over the direction of the war.
The two-man attack on the Third Reich doesn't go as planned, and King and Cuthbertson's return to England's shore is, to say the least, a bit rocky.
Director John Henderson, whose extensive television background includes the British comedy series "Not the Nine O'Clock News" and "Spitting Image," brings a light touch that counters a tendency toward the sentimental in this type of material.
The middle sections go a bit slack at times, and things wrap up a little too neat and quickly, but overall "Two Men Went to War" entertains and recalls the type of British period comedy that more regularly appeared here before everything seemingly began to strive for "Full Monty"-sized box-office returns.
'Two Men Went to War'
MPAA rating: Unrated.
Times guidelines: Explosions, perilous situations, suitable for sophisticated teens.
Kenneth Cranham...Sgt. Peter King
Leo Bill...Pvt. Leslie Cuthbertson
Rosanna Lavelle...Emma Fraser
Derek Jacobi...Maj. Merton
David Ryall...Winston Churchill
Little Wing Films presents an Ira Trattner production, released by Indican Pictures. Director John Henderson. Producers Ira Trattner, Pat Harding. Executive producers Keith Hayley, Robert Bevan, Charlie Savill, Amanda Coombes, Amit Barooah. Screenplay by Richard Everett, Christopher Villiers, based on the book "Amateur Commandos" by Raymond Foxall. Cinematographer John Ignatius. Editor David Yardley. Costume designer Jill Taylor. Music Richard Harvey. Production designer Sophie Becher, Steve Carter. Art director Sam Stokes. Set decorators Sophie Newman, Penny Crawford. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes.
Exclusively at Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., (310) 274-6869.